Today’s Gospel reading gives us a short snippet of dialogue between Jesus and the disciples of John the Baptist. Fasting seems to be one among only a few points of agreement between the Pharisees and the Baptizer. We know St. John the Baptist was an ascetic and his followers shared this life. Fasting was prescribed in the Hebrew Scriptures (Is 58:1-9a, et. al.). Yet, for some reason Jesus’ disciples did not fast. In retrospect, the reason is made obvious to us by the Gospel Evangelists. However, at the time and context of this conversation, it was a worthwhile question. We must sometimes fight the tendency to look down our enlightened noses at biblical figures, like the twelve disciples of Jesus, who didn’t “know better.” We have the great benefit of the whole story in systematic form, infallible interpretation, and millennia of lived tradition.
To the question about fasting, Jesus reminds us that there is an appropriate time to fast. As well, there is an appropriate time to feast. Ecclesiastes chapter three tells us there is a time for everything. A time to mourn, dance, weep, laugh. All of these are part of the human experience on this side of eternity. Since we are part of a symbiotic whole, our lives mirror that of nature; synced up with rhythmic cycles. Summer and winter. Seed time and harvest. Exertion and rest. Modern man has largely moved away from this realization, in the name of progress toward nothingness wrapped up in hedonistic comforts. Insodoing, he further alienating himself from his ancestors and his very nature. In a more colloquial sense, Christians sometimes speak of going through ‘seasons’ of life. Although frequently a platitude offered to quickly pivot what would otherwise be a meaningful conversation, there is a large kernel of truth in this. We all go through seasons. We mourn the death of a loved one who passes away. We feast when celebrating a wedding or the birth of a new child. The vissicitudes of life cannot be avoided. They must be embraced. The proverbial changing seasons are bound up with who and what we are.
The Bible tells us that we will one day attend a great feast. The marriage supper of the Lamb (Rev. 19:9). When we enter this feast, by God’s grace, things will be such that the cycles of tears and mourning will be no more. We will enjoy God forever. It is the earthly pilgrimage when we cycle through fasting so that we can better appreciate the blessing of the feast and therefore better understand the heavenly banquet we are called to attend one day. The perennial push/pull of life’s rhythms and seasons are part and parcel of our progress in holiness.